Pratham Chhabria | 8:29am BST 14 May 2023
We are grateful to Pratham Chhabria of Cow Corner Cricket Podcast for an extended interview with one of the greatest off spinners the game has seen.
Pratham: Welcome all to Cow Corner Cricket Cast!
Pratham: I’m your host, Pratham.
Pratham: It’s my real pleasure to be joined by Mr.Lance Gibbs today.
Pratham: Mr. Gibbs is a off-spinner from the West Indies.
Pratham: All of you are probably most familiar with him holding the world record for 309 wickets.
Pratham: He played from 1958 to 1976 internationally.
Pratham: A lot more years domestically as well.
Pratham: It’s a real honor and privilege to meet with Mr. Gibbs and have this interview, and yeah!
Pratham: Mr. Gibbs, it’s a pleasure!
Lance Gibbs: Thank you very much!
Pratham: So, I wanted to start by asking you some questions your early life in particular.
Pratham: It’s always fascinating for me learning the stories of cricketers and how they get into the game, especially from the Carribbean. There’s the beach cricket stories that you hear from some of the players like Sir Viv and all the others…Sir Garry as well.
Pratham: So I wanted to ask you – who was the first person who introduced or encouraged you to play cricket?
Lance Gibbs: That is a hard question. I lived near the Queenstown Pasture and you know myself and some other friends used to play cricket there. We sort of loved the game. It was a challenge, you know.
Pratham: Fair enough! Did you also play on the beach? Or did you also play on the streets?
Lance Gibbs: No, no, not on the beach. We were not near the sea. So I played just in the Queenstown pasture.
Pratham: Got you.
Lance Gibbs: The pasture was particularly big. You could have had 2 or 3 different games being played on it.
Pratham: That’s interesting…I haven’t heard too many Caribbean cricketers talk about you know getting their start in cricket that way. But yeah, it must have been fun just playing and interacting with all your friends and all.
Lance Gibbs: Yeah, very much so. It was a challenge, you know. You couldn’t particularly in the yard in your home because you’d be breaking windows and different things.
Pratham: I might have had some experience getting in trouble because of that…
Lance Gibbs: Exactly!
Pratham: So that I guess answers my question about how you were encouraged or introduced you to playing but it follows then who was the first figure to teach you how to bowl spin.
Lance Gibbs: Spin! Well I started as a leg-spinner. I used to bowl a lot of leg-breaks. I got accustomed to doing it, you know. Then, ah, Arthur McIntyre, came to Guyana to coach. And…my legbreaks were not particularly good. So I decided to make the change.
Pratham: Were your leg-breaks not…did they not turn enough? Were you not like accurate enough with the action you had when bowling legbreaks?
Lance Gibbs: They turned, but ah….not the way you wanted to really out the batsman, you know? So, I decided to change…and it was a great success, as you can see!
Lance Gibbs: It was safer. The ball going away from the batsman – right hander. It’s easier to punch it through the covers. The off-break, it was difficult because it was turning into him and there was more room for the batsman to think about what to do. So the off-break, you know, it was the ball after a while you preferred to bowl. I still bowled legbreaks every now and again and get a wicket here or there…but the off-break was the dependable ball.
Pratham: That makes sense. And was your action when you used to bowl with a leg-break after that change…was it easy to tell that you were bowling a leg-break versus an off-break.
Lance Gibbs: Yeah, easy.
Pratham: I know there were some spinners around your time…there was a man by the name of Johnny Gleeson…
Lance Gibbs: Gleeson, yes. I played with him.
Pratham: I knew there were some spinners like him that were mystery spinners where you couldn’t really tell whether it was a leg or off break. So I was wondering if you were like that. But that makes sense.
Lance Gibbs: The most important point is that if I bowl an off-break I’m going to get it to turn, and turn it much more then I would get it to turn when bowling off-breaks.
Pratham: I did hear a story…and ah, I want to…you know you hear a lot of stories about cricketers and all…and I always want to fact check essentially or validate if it’s true or not. I heard about some of the batsmen in the club you used to play in. They way that they’d encourage bowlers would be to put a coin on the top of off stump and then if you hit the top off stump, the bowler could get a coin as a prize. Was that true, in your case?
Lance Gibbs: Is that true? Yes…but the leg-break is going to turn away, and therefore is not going to hit the stump you’re aiming at. So it was easier to bowl off-breaks with the ball coming in to the batsman. And most of the batsman in those days were right handers…
Pratham: Wow! Makes a lot of sense. So once you switched to off-breaks….do you remember how many coins you earned?
Lance Gibbs: How many coins I earned? Fair amount! Haha. Fair amount, fair amount.
Pratham: And do you think that helped you with your accuracy as a bowler in general?
Lance Gibbs: I would think so…certainly did.
Pratham: One other thing that interested me in your stage where you were still budding as a young cricketer. And it has to do to something I noticed when you became an experienced cricketer. In watching footage of past matches and so forth, I noticed that you’d be standing in the fielding position of gully. I was wondering…did that start when you were in club cricket or was that something once you got to the Test side you were asked to do? Do you have advice if you are fielding at gully as a young cricketer?
Lance Gibbs: Fielding at gully? Yeah, it’s a great position. You keep your eye on the ball all the time. When you are fielding in the slips, you don’t take your eyes of the ball at all. If you do that you’re going to get hit and lose out. So it’s best to concentrate on the ball at all times. Some fellows seem to field at slip, but they don’t seem to care.
Pratham: Did you bend more a lot more when you were at gully? Were you mostly upright? I ask because one of the cricketers I was reading an interview about this matter (Darryl Cullinan) said something to the effect that slip & gully fielders should emulate their wicketkeeper in terms of position and stance as to be capable to catch the ball. Did you try to do that?
Lance Gibbs: Yes certainly. Once you are invovled in it you pick up little hints here and there and you try and concentrate and do as is best for you and your team.
Pratham: There is something else that I’ve heard your team had a role in playing in. Please feel free to corroborate whether this is true or not but I heard when you were younger, especially when you were in club cricket, you were a talented batsman.
Lance Gibbs: Hmm..hmm..
Pratham: And because you were one of their main strike bowlers and spinners, your skippers said “don’t worry about the batting…just focus on the bowling.” Was that true? Did you feel a certain kind of way regarding that (getting demoted down the batting order, not getting enough batting opportunities)?
Lance Gibbs: I worked on my batting because in order to get into the Test side and eventually come up to the top, you’ve got to concentrate a lot and make sure you are doing it both ways. Batting a little bit, bowling a little bit. So I worked on my batting early on and got chances…but it was not at Test level.
Pratham: Makes sense. That covers most of the queries I had regarding your early life. And now, I want to ask you a bit about your path to the Test side.
Pratham: You made your (first class cricket) debut in ’54 for British Guiana.
Lance Gibbs: 53-54, yes.
Pratham: My understanding was that it was February of that year, and it was against the MCC who were England at the time. How did you feel when you were making a debut against them? Cause they weren’t a weak side. They were the best side in the world.
Lance Gibbs: No, no, they weren’t a weak side. But you know, I aimed to reach to the top. Gave my best and by aiming my best to reach up there. And you know, once you know what exactly you are doing, it helps. You had help from coaches down the line (Berkeley Gaskin, McIntyre)…and in the Caribbean, you’d bring out someone who was particularly good. They would become the main individuals you could go to and they would say do so. If they saw you bowl a bad ball, they’d. So you had a lot of help from the fellows. And I was particularly pleased with what transpired.
Pratham: It’s really a great thing to have that sort of support.
Lance Gibbs: Yeah, yeah.
Pratham: I know that first game might have been a bit of a baptism by fire. Because the MCC, they scored 600 in the first innings of that match…
Lance Gibbs: I remember my first wicket was DCS Compton. Bowled Gibbs 18. And he was one of the premier men in the English side.
Pratham: He was a fascinating character, I’ve heard, as well. A great batsman.
Lance Gibbs: Compton? Yes, he certainly was.
Pratham: How did you feel you bowled in that first match?
Lance Gibbs: I bowled particularly well. I got 2 wickets. I got Compton and another one of their main batsman.
Pratham: I did look at the side they put out for that tour game. They had some very fine batsman in there – Hutton, Compton, May, and Tom Graveney.
Lance Gibbs: Graveney got a 100.
Pratham: He tended to like play against West Indian sides – he scored a lot of 100s against them.
Lance Gibbs: Yeah, he was a great player.
Pratham: Another thing about that English side you were facing up in your first match. When Guyana came out to bat, Johnny Wardle seemed to run through your batting lineup. In this game, do you recall him as bowling mainly chinamen deliveries? My understanding was that he’d bowl often left arm orthodox at home but would switch overseas on tours to place like the Caribbean to bowling chinaman deliveries. Or was there a mix of both?
Lance Gibbs: Well he was a senior cricketer at that time and he tried different things. Sometimes he succeeded, sometimes he did not.
Pratham: Did you find that your batsman were especially unfamiliar with the style he bowled in (was he hard to pick)?
Lance Gibbs: Well our team was a young team. It was a Guyana side that were really not at the level we would probably wanted to think about. They came on to the scene late. Glendon Gibbs whose a cousin of mine was the exception. He batted and bowled particularly well. I think he got 6 wickets. He got more wickets then I did – and he was not a specialist bowler.
Pratham: So he was a batting all-rounder, then?
Lance Gibbs: Yes.
Pratham: There was another man that was playing in that side. He also ended up representing the West Indies – Robert Christiani.
Lance Gibbs: He was the captain!
Pratham: How was he as a teammate, as a personality?
Lance Gibbs: Very nice individual. He lived not very far from where I live. And I used to hero-worship him.
Pratham: Did he give you any advice before you made your debut?
Lance Gibbs: Yeah, yeah. They all do. At the same time, if you listen to so much, you’re in trouble of knowing what to do and what not to do.
Pratham: You have to filter things out.
Lance Gibbs: Exactly!
Pratham: Some of the other bowlers playing in that game were Trueman and Lock. Now both didn’t have statistically great tours but they were great bowlers probably closer to their prime in this series. What did you make of their skillsets as bowlers?
Lance Gibbs: Trueman…he was a great bowler. You sort of hero-worship some fellows, you know…
Pratham: He was one of them?
Lance Gibbs: Yeah.
Pratham: I know that in 1959-60, the tour after this one, he was called Mr. Bumper Man by some of the West Indian crowds because he’d bowl a lot of bouncers. In this game, did he bowl a lot of bouncers?
Lance Gibbs: I was hoping he didn’t bowl bumpers at me! (laughing)
Pratham: I heard in those days you could also bowl beamers and it was up to the umpire to decide to put a stop to it. Did you see him bowling bumpers in this game?
Lance Gibbs: No, no. But he was a rough campaigner, to be honest with you.
Pratham: I’ve heard a lot of sledges associated with him. Did he say anything to you?
Lance: No. When I went in to bat, he wasn’t bowling.
Pratham: Was Lock there when you went in to bat?
Lance Gibbs: Lock was quite a nice man.
Pratham: Very quick through the air, was he not?
Lance Gibbs: Right – and he would help you if you asked a question about bowling – he’d give you an answer, you know?
Pratham: Oh, okay! And like you, he used to field close to the bat, right?
Lance Gibbs: Yeah.
Pratham: And they also had Moss who was their first change bowler.
Lance Gibbs: He was the quickest of the lot.
Pratham: It’s interesting you mentioned Moss was the fastest of the lot. Now he’s not generally who you would expect in that. You would expect Trueman or Statham to be considered quicker. If there was a speed gun in those days, what would you estimate their pace to be in terms of miles per hour or kilometers per hour?
Lance Gibbs: That I don’t know – but I think Moss was particularly quick.
Pratham: I know that the English captain Hutton did this the year after in Australia – he was often criticized for slowing down the game because he would use his fast bowlers in short bursts and he would get overs in a lot less faster. In this game, did you see any example of that in that Trueman and co weren’t getting their overs in as quickly?
Lance Gibbs: I never really looked at that – but I would say that if they had to bowl a certain amount of overs in a certain amount of time, they did so. You would have to bowl a certain amount of overs in a day. That’s where you would get fined if you not bowling at the right range, you know? And that was something that was done right through the Caribbean throughout my cricketing career. They expect you to bowl and finish an over in a certain amount of time so the others could get a chance to bowl. they had three or four exceptionally good fast bowlers and they used them accordingly.
Pratham: And then you know, you make your debut 5 years after this – so there’s a gap…
Lance Gibbs: Debut in Test cricket?
Pratham: Yes – cause this is 1953-54…
Lance Gibbs: Right?
Pratham: So what were some improvements you made in those 4-5 years as a spinner?
Lance Gibbs: I worked harder then ever. Practiced as much as possible.
Pratham: So what were some kind of drills that you would do to practice? Were there specific things you would concentrate on?
Lance Gibbs: Yeah…bowled at one stump for many hours for quite a while. I’d be the first individual at the nets. There was a school next door to the ground. And I get the boys to throw the ball back to me (to improve catching). So I worked hard at it.
Pratham: One of the things some of the biomechanists who study spin bowling say these days…they mention the pivoting of your hips as very important. The more you can get your hips to pivot or rotate in delivering the ball, the more turn you can get. Was there an effort on your end to try to make it so that your action was more…you were getting more into the ball by moving your body behind that way?
Lance Gibbs: Not really. It came naturally. I had one style and stuck through it in my career.
Pratham: Makes sense.
We are grateful also to Dario Montisci for this photograph of Lance and Pratham, as well as the one of Lance alone.